Stockholm, day 2

It’s a record – an entire vacation with only good weather. It drizzled a bit in Amsterdam and a bit today, but that counts as good 🙂 Today we went to Skansen (thanks to Caro for the suggestion!) in the morning. It’s the world’s first open-air museum, founded in 1891, where over 150 buildings from all over Sweden have been dismantled and reassembled so you can “stroll through five centuries of Swedish history.”

In the afternoon we finished our tour of the Royal Palace, seeing the Treasury (no pictures allowed) which holds the royals’ crowns, scepters, etcetera, the Tre Kronos Museum, with the history of the original palace which burned down in 1697, and the church where all the royals are buried, dating from the 13th century.

Finally, we had our first good meal in Sweden, in the old town, where the Royal Palace and many other sites are located. Tomorrow we return to reality…

Here’s a sketch from the Palace museum.

And a detail from one of the gravestones in the church. There are lots of skulls and crossbones, some only barely discernible. Many people have walked on these stones over many centuries.

Skansen has a zoo as well. These are a couple of Sweden’s only remaining type of native pigs. They’re doing their best to keep up the population though.

Helsinki

The capital of Finland was a big change after St. Petersburg. But the weather was lovely again.

Here’s the port with the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral in the background.

The cathedral was stark in comparison with the ones we’ve seen in the two days we spent in Russia. But the organ pipes were pretty.

Our tour guide told us that Finland was recently named the happiest country in the world. But, she said, we are a serious looking people. There were two more matching guys on the other side of this building. She told us that they represent the four emotions. The first guy is happy, the second sad, the third angry and the fourth fearful. Or, perhaps, the other way around 🙂

St. Petersburg

We have just spent two days in St. Petersburg. If you haven’t been, put it on your bucket list.. We took a two full day tour (back on the boat between days for dinner and the evening/night) with SPB tours, and because most people just take the cruise company tours, our tour had just 4 people on it. We saw Peterhof, Catherine’s palace, St. Isaac’s cathedral, the church of the spilled blood, took a canal ride, visited the Hermitage. Whirlwind – but every site seemed more impressive than the last. I couldn’t possibly tell you much about any one of them, so you will have to Google..

The other couple chose to visit a different room of the Hermitage, so Lana, our guide, seeing that we didn’t mind walking very fast, took us to twice the usual number of highlights in this vast museum. Buzz shot this racing through one gorgeous room after another:

One of the Tsars collected tapestries, displayed in a darkish corridor so they would fade as little as possible.

Beautiful details in every possible place – these are just doors between two of the hundreds of rooms in the Hermitage.

The Church of the Spilled Blood. In one corner, the stones on which the murdered Tsar fell are preserved exactly where he fell (no, I couldn’t see any blood). The entire interior is covered in mosaics. And I mean every square inch.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the lovely small capital of the former Soviet republic of Estonia. This is the house and office of the president – except that the first female president decided she’d rather live in her house in town with her family. So now it’s just the office of the president. Personally, I wouldn’t turn down an invitation to live here.

The town hall boasts this clock, which even has the correct time.

We visited the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe (or in the whole Milky Way, says Buzz). The outside of the building says 1422, but that’s just the first known reference to the business. Nowadays they sell modern products, but there still seemed to be many vials of eye of newt and the like. Hopefully just for show…

At sea

Great view last night:

We had dinner at the reservations-only venue, Candles. No complaints about the food here! Our day at sea was relaxing and fairly uneventful. Nothing to see but the sea…

Copenhagen

Eight miles (that’s 22000 steps) walked to see five hours  worth of Copenhagen today! It’s a city of only a million. The day was clear, and the crowds not bad. Our tour guide walked us around at a rapid pace, so I won’t try to remember what each of these pics is – they can speak for themselves today 🙂

(Thanks to Buzz for his skill as the family photographer.)

This is from a tee house we were in.  Like a lot of the buildings here, it was once a royal something-or-other.

This is an inlet a few blocks from the ocean.

There are a lot of bizarre statues around town.  This is in a park.

This was once a royal garden; now it is a public park.

This is from a Catholic Church, above the altar.

Kiel Canal

Heard of the Kiel Canal? We hadn’t… It was constructed in the late 19th century and cuts east-west through northern Germany, so ships can avoid going all the way north around Denmark to travel between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Large cruise ships can’t go through it, as there are several bridges over the canal and the ships are too tall to pass under them. Our little Star Breeze (438 feet, 212 passengers) fit just fine. We spent the entire day cruising through the canal.

Old Dutch windmills are good tourist draws, but the modern ones are more useful.

The Star Breeze entering the lock, preparing to go through the 98 km canal. The canal is fresh water, fed by rivers. So the water in the lock is kept slightly higher than the seas. That way the downward pressure when the lock is opened keeps the salt water out of the canal.

A container ship in the lock next to ours. We didn’t see any other pleasure boats in the canal.

A pretty German smokestack.

This little guy joined us for quite a while as we waited in the outgoing lock.

Exiting the canal on our way to Copenhagen.

Harlingen, Netherlands

Harlingen is in the north of the Netherlands. It’s a very pretty, large town. We are here on Sunday, when most businesses are closed, and it’s a nice change after bustling, noisy, dirty Amsterdam. We visited the only remaining factory where Delft tiles are hand made and hand painted. The gentleman painting the tile above has been doing this for 45 years.

Our tour also included a trip along the dike, built to separate fresh water from salt and provide protection from flooding to a large part of the country, which is 1/4 below sea level.

Originally City Hall, now just another pretty building.

There were several old warehouses which were labeled with the countries the goods came from. This one is Poland, next door was Russia, across the street Java and Sumatra.

After WWII, the residents of Harlingen placed metal plates in the sidewalk outside the houses of residents who were sent off to concentration camps and who never returned…

Someone in Harlingen had beautiful flowers outside their house.

Doei Amsterdam, hallo Star Breeze

We spent our last morning doing a little shopping. This mall must have at one point been something much more impressive. Buzz took a few pictures of it, planning to use them to model a scene.

There are reputedly 900,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. It certainly looked like there must be 100,000 just parked at the Central Station.

One could spend days just wandering around looking at the architecture. But we are out of time and have boarded our ship and set sail!

Note from Buzz: we were shopping for pj’s, because Buzz forgot his pajamas…

Artists and Canals

We took a canal tour. These are “dancing houses”. Since the ground is rather unstable, the houses were built on posts, which have settled. In some cases the wooden posts have started to rot over the centuries.  Many houses are leaning into each other. These have been shored up so they won’t topple into the canal. We think…

Here’s a detail on a piling for a bridge crossing a canal. So much ornate artistry!

We went to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, both well worth a visit. Here’s “The Book Shop…” by Johannes Jelgerhuis, 1820. Speaking of detail, it’s quite amazing how much there is to see in one painting.

And this is Buzz’s favorite piece of art in the whole world!